The Changing Views of Billy Graham

In a series of interviews with Newsweek magazine's managing editor Jon Meacham back in 2006, Billy Graham reflected on the final years of his life and the changes in his thoughts and actions through the years of his life and ministry. Following several months of interviews with the world-renowned evangelist, Meacham published his cover story on Graham in the August 7, 2006, issue of Newsweek. Meacham highlighted Graham's gradual change from one who involved himself in partisan politics and condemned specific sins to one who now refuses to judge anything or anyone. "Graham now prizes peace," Meacham wrote. "He is a man of unwavering faith who refuses to be judgmental ... a resolute Christian who declines to render ab­solute verdicts about who will get into heaven and who will not." Indeed, during his interview with Meacham, Graham refused to say whether or not a sincere and devout non-Christian would go to heaven. When Meacham asked Graham "whether he believes heaven would be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people," Graham responded, "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't. … I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have." Such a statement is reminiscent of Graham's interview with Robert Schuller in 1997 when Graham said salvation is possible for individuals who have never heard of Jesus Christ since they have been "called by God" (documented in the May-June 1997 issue of Foundation magazine).

Graham also revealed to Meacham his changes concerning his view of the Bible. "I'm not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord," Graham said. "This is a little difference in my thinking through the years." Meacham noted that Graham has "moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative—a journey that began in 1949, when a friend challenged his belief in inerrancy during a conference in southern California's San Bernardino mountains." Graham said, "Sincere Christians can disagree about the details of Scripture and theology," including the literalness of creation and other theological topics. For example, many Christians believe the meaning of the word day in Genesis is a literal, 24-hour period, while Graham says he believes it is figurative.

In an online question-and-answer session with Newsweek readers, Meacham summed up the lessons he learned from interviewing Graham in the following way: "The im­portant thing, I believe, is to learn from the spirit of what Graham told Newsweek: that sincere people can disagree, that if one believes in God or the gods, that figure should be seen as a source of charity and mercy, and that gentleness and generosity are cardinal virtues, whether one believes, as Thomas Jefferson once said, in one god, twenty gods or no god." Clearly, Meacham (an Episcopalian) walked away from his many hours with Graham with the very message that the god of this world is trying to shove down the hearts and throats of a lost and unbelieving world. How sad, indeed.